- Posted October 25, 2013 by
Quezon City, Philippines
TURNING TRICYCLE DRIVERS TO TOUR GUIDES
Baler, the renowned “Surfing Capital of the Philippines”, fairly owes its ever-growing fame among nature lovers and tourists alike from the most unlikely of heroes, its tricycle drivers.
Through a lingering gravel road, two tricycles treaded. Their struggling engines made snarling noises as they passed rows of coconut trees and the occasional wooden houses. Several sharp turns and wobbly ascents later, the tricycles finally parked near a cemented path that goes around a small plot of land. In the middle, towered a mass of stocky moss-colored roots and branches that lead up to a half-circle crown of emerald foliage. Passengers of the tricycles stepped out and each had taken a long bemused pause before actually grasping what exactly they were looking at.
“That is the ‘Millennium Tree’,” one of the tricycle drivers explained. “The largest Balete tree in Asia.”
“But ‘kuya’ Rollymar,” called out one of the passengers. “Could we climb it?”
Rollymar Ramos has been a tour guide for 6 years. He has already taken thousands of eager visitors to the diverse areas that make Baler a truly exceptional travel destination -- From hanging bridges guaranteed to raise anyone’s hair, to surreal giant trees straight out of children’s books, to pristine sandy beaches perfect for strolls or a momentary dip and to waterfalls surely to awaken a strong appreciation, if not, love for the natural world.
A native son of baranggay Suklayin in Baler, Rollymar witnessed the changes that had transpired in his hometown for the last few decades. After graduating from college he moved to Manila where he had worked in both the private and public sector. Not nearly enough to make ends meet he decided to return to Baler and landed a decent work as a tricycle driver. He was even elected as an officer to the local tricycle drivers’ association. However as time passed and he started to have a family of his own, Rollymar needed to find a more lucrative means to make a living.
“There’s the boundary fee and the cost of gas. There’s very little left for my family by the end of the day,” mentioned Rollymar on his daily expenses as a tricycle driver.
In 2007, an unexpected predicament presented a very interesting opportunity for Rollymar and his fellow tricycle drivers. Baler’s popularity among surfers and outdoor enthusiasts had increased dramatically and as much as it was very advantageous for the municipality itself, it was still quite a challenge for the local tourism office to fully accommodate the rising number of visitors. Devised was an ingenious program wherein the local tourism office rallied all tricycle operators and held a series of training seminars. They were introduced and guided on proper tour guide procedures as well as extensive information on all the tourist attraction within and around Baler. Those who were successful in passing the training were included in the official list of certified tour guides and were provided official ID’s.
“Before, there were a lot who came to Baler without a tour guide,” clarifed Rollymar. “The local tourism office tapped into our group since we, tricycle drivers, are the first to greet the tourists as soon as they get off the bus.”
The arrangement not only paved the right set of circumstance for the tricycle drivers to earn additional income but provided Baler with an excellent tour service as well. Baler’s natural attractions are situated remotely from each other and most of the roads are unpaved and extremely rough even today -- Thus, making tricycles the suitable mode of transportation. Furthermore, safety for the tourists is ensured given that guides/tricycle drivers receive the utmost priority and direct support from local officials.
Since the program was initiated, visitors to Baler have continually grown at an amazing rate. It was estimated that from January to June this year (2013) roughly tourists have come and availed the guides/tricycle drivers’ services.
“I’m just enjoying myself,” said the year old. “As long as I still get to tour; Give a really good service to my guests. At least when they come back they might want to contact me again or refer me to other tourists.”
A few months ago, typhoon “Labuyo” (Utor) wreaked havoc over at Baler but with resilience and resourcefulness this municipality is open to all guests once again. In fact, Rollymar had disclosed that tourists are still coming and have not been deterred -- Confirmation that Baler will remain to be a destination to be explored and most importantly, preserved. Rollymar also added that seeing how much his work has made such a positive impact towards his family and community, Rollymar is very much certain that he, along with his fellow drivers, would carry on giving tours to Baler’s legions of visitors on their three-wheeled steed for years to come.